CONFIDENTIAL discussions between ministers and university vice-chancellors over sweeping changes to the academic pay structure are to go ahead, in spite of last week's Government veto of the salary deal hammered out between universities and lecturers.
Tomorrow John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, will chair the talks with David Harrison, chairman of the Committee of Vice-chancellors and Principals, which will examine new ways of funding academics and other staff in the universities.
At first it was assumed that the meeting, planned months ago, would be called off because of events last week. On Thursday the Government said it would refuse to ensorse a negotiated pay settlement between universities and academics and also ruled out arbitration.
The vice-chancellors and the Association of University Teachers reacted furiously and said the decision raised the question of who managed the universities. Mr Patten confirmed on Friday that the meeting would still go ahead and it is unlikely that the vice-chancellors will be able to resist the opportunity of raising the issue with him personally.
On Tuesday's agenda is the prospect of a move towards single-table bargaining. At present different groups, the lecturers, the technicians, clerical staff, all negotiate individually with their university employers. It is a messy business with each side looking over its shoulder, concerned about the effects of one pay offer on another. With single-table bargaining, all sides would be sitting down at the same time.
The unions would have to be persuaded that this would not reduce their bargaining power. But some argue that it could greatly increase it, if they acted collectively.
The Government wants a pay system which ensures that a much bigger proportion of any settlement goes towards rewarding performance and merit.
The universities are prepared to respond and want the Government to invest in change, providing more money to allow greater flexibility. It has set up a working group, chaired by Brian Fender, vice-chancellor of Keele University, to come up with specific proposals. Mr Patten wants something he can put before the Treasury.